Mark Haberman is the Director of Licensing and Business Development at Enesco, a brand that specializes in giftware, dolls and plush toys. He recently spoke to Trend Hunter about the ways in which he looks for inspiration in and outside of his work.
How does your team generate great ideas?
We do have frequent formalized brainstorm meetings with dedicated time to think creatively. Often these sessions are tied to specific brands for which we need to come up with new product ideas and assortments. Or, less frequently, to consider a whole new range. For those meetings, we have our individual homework assignments to come prepared with some research and ideas for the subject to present. There are no barriers in terms of what can be presented. We bounce the ideas off of each other, some play the role of devil’s advocate or outlier opinion. Some of our preparations include retail marketing intelligence shopping on our own, or reviewing research reports, or surfing the web, or updates on what we just saw at a trade or consumer show we attended, what our competitors are doing. We also have offices in China who provide R&D input.
Interestingly, even our Procurement/Sourcing team provides some information as to what they notice as being produced in higher or lower volumes at factories in Asia. We go into the brainstorms with forces of ideas from all these different origins and try to apply them within our existing brands, or to develop a whole new product line or way to go to market.
What are some barriers to innovation and how do you get around them?
What often is a restriction for us, that can be frustrating, is that we’re operating with licensed properties or licensed brands, so we may come up with an idea for a product format, or a combination, or a co-brand, but the licensor may not permit us to do that or we may not be able to obtain the license to do it with their intellectual property. So that often holds us back and then we’ll say OK can we do this without the licensor, can we create our own original content. This can be a challenge because one of the main reasons we obtain a major entertainment property license, say from Disney, is because of the instant awareness and pull demand that consumers have for the character or for the film property.
Another barrier is maybe we lack enough input from different sources outside of our company. We have relatively small teams, and we’re perhaps not inviting or soliciting input from others with more diversity of backgrounds (age, geography, interests, digital propensity).
Do you have specific rituals for resetting to be creative?
We set time aside for brain storming, but no rituals other than what we may do on our own to just go out and look and see and be open, review all types of media and research, and also consider how we can combine what we see in other industries.
One thing I like to do is try to spot something I see in another industry and see if it could apply to ours. I like to go out and see interesting products and services in other industries and think about how we can capture something like that, adapt it to our industry, especially if that combination has not existed in our industry to date.
Can you provide an example of an instance where another industry influenced an innovation at your company?
We took notice of recognition technology (RFID) used for industrial applications and some consumer products in other industries and were able to incorporate into our products for a delightful feature. Relatively low-tech collectible figures for display were now infused with a hidden technology whereby if one placed the item onto a universal base it would play a tune associated only with that particular character. A team member with an electrical engineering background brainstormed the application and our Asia R&D team helped develop the feature. This leads us to consider incorporating other technologies into low-tech home décor items and toys, such as BlueTooth, motion sensors, LED light sequencing, location services, movement, sound recording for personalization, etc.
What are some examples of things you can do to create a culture of innovation?
That portfolio management approach, if we could take say 10% of our time and devote it to creative thinking and destruction outside of our existing product lines. It doesn’t have to be on the product side, it could be how we go after the market and how we reach the ultimate consumer more effectively with our story and message. I think we become so consumed and tasked with our core activities (including farming our current brands and product lines) that we do not set time and energy aside to think creatively.
In addition, acquiring and paying attention to research, from our internal sources and from experts like Trend Hunter, to inform product and license decision-making. The research does not guarantee success over gut decision-making based on casual observations, but it speaks to us about where people are moving in their preferences and how other companies are meeting them.
What do you think your industry will look like in the future?
Way off in the future, the types of products we do, whether it’s a figurine or a seasonable décor product, or even a toy, I think we’re going to become more of a software company where we’ll do digital sculpting and painting, and if people have 3D printers, they can just buy and download it, personalize and adjust it, because they won’t need us to physically produce it anymore. Or they can enjoy it in a 3D visual, VR or augmented reality-type format. We have to think it’s going to go towards that type of experience with our products. We have the artistry that is hard for anybody to replicate, so if we have the software for people to produce those things on their own, I think that’s the long distance future for home décor and toys.
In the shorter term, I think we’ll see more of a change in the materials, I think that people who have bought our ceramic and resin figurines and plush toys, I think they’re going to be aging out more and we’ll see new, more environmentally friendly materials and more pliable materials. Perhaps ones where there is a purpose built in with the purchase, where you’re maybe helping a cause. And, we will see technology that enhances the experience of enjoying the item, such as providing a surrounding environment with video, music, and connectivity to other people. Influencers, unboxings, peer reviews will play a greater role for the marketing of products in our industry.
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